COVID-19: Spike in cases raises fears of nationwide spread in South Korea
South Korea’s daily Coronavirus cases have continued to rise short of a record high on Thursday, forcing the country to impose stronger restrictions in regions surrounding the capital Seoul.
South Korea, through the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said this was in its bid to slow down nationwide spread of the virus.
KDCA added that 1,600 new COVID-19 cases, including 1,555 local infections, had raised the total caseload to 173,511.
The latest figure is the second-highest daily tally after a record of 1,615 cases was reported a day earlier as the country battles the spread of the more contagious Delta variant amid a slow vaccine rollout.
The greater Seoul area, home to half of the country’s 51.3 million population has been under the highest social distancing measures since Monday, while most other regions have increased restrictions starting from Thursday.
The agency said it had recorded two more COVID-19 deaths, raising the death toll to 2,050 and leading to a fatality rate of 1.18 per cent.
The country has implemented a semi-lockdown in the greater Seoul area by banning gatherings of more than two people after 6:00 p.m., as new cases in the region had accounted for 80 per cent of the daily caseload.
Under the toughest Level 4 social distancing measures, entertainment establishments, including nightclubs and bars, were ordered to shut down, while restaurants were allowed to have dine-in customers until 10 p.m.
Starting from Thursday, most regions outside the wider capital area have been placed under Level 2 measures, in which gatherings of more than eight people were banned.
The regions, which had previously been under the lowest social distancing scheme with no ceiling on gatherings, have accounted for a larger share of the cases this week, indicating the growing spread of the virus nationwide.
New cases in the broader Seoul area accounted for 70.6 per cent of the total domestic infections reported earlier, it said.
In spite of the growing number of cases outside the capital, health authorities said it would not be desirable to further raise the social distancing level in the regions, citing discrepancies in the number of regional cases.
The southeastern city of Daegu had reported 1.3 infections per 100,000 people, while North Gyeongsang Province, which surrounds the city, has around 0.4 cases per 100,000 people.
The recent spike in new virus cases came as the country’s vaccination drive had recently lagged due to tight vaccine supplies.
A total of 15.84 million people, or 30.8 per cent of the country’s population, had received their first shots of COVID-19 vaccines, not too different from the 29.8 per cent recorded at the end of June.
The KDCA said 6.18 million people had been fully vaccinated, accounting for 12 per cent of the population.
Health authorities expect the vaccination drive to pick up later this month when it starts inoculating people in their 50s.
The authorities said that around 35 million doses of vaccines from AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna and Janssen, will be shipped in from Friday until the end of August.
It said it was also reviewing shortening the interval between the doses for the AstraZeneca vaccine from the current 11 weeks to up to eight weeks, considering the recent surge in cases.
The World Health Organisation, has recommended an interval of eight to 12 weeks for AstraZeneca’s two-dose vaccine.
Untraceable cases have also hampered the country’s virus fight, with a record 31.6 per cent of infections reported over the past two weeks.
Out of the newly confirmed domestic cases, 518 were from Seoul, 491 from the surrounding Gyeonggi Province and 89 from the western port city of Incheon, KDCA stated.
It further said that the total number of people released from quarantine after making full recovery, was 156,509, up 1,018 from a day earlier.
The number of patients in critical condition came to 167, increasing by four from the previous day.